Who among us would not wish to have been a part of Apple's iPhone team? Sure, the work was hard, and they faced huge challenges and demanding, unreasonable, leaders -- iPod hero Tony Fadell captured the enormity of what the iPhone team accomplished when he recalled: “It was like the first moon mission, ... I’m used to a certain level of unknowns in a project, but there were so many new things here that it was just staggering” --  but they succeeded, and in the process experienced a touch of immortality that will last their entire professional careers. What more could any young tech-savvy geek ever ask for? Fame and recognition from a concentrated burst of superhuman effort!  But, whatever happened to them after the lights went out?   Read More



“I never thought that the music called “jazz” was ever meant to reach just a small group of people, or become a museum thing locked under glass like all the other dead things that were once considered artistic.”[1]

            Cool, Hard Bop, Modal, Fusion..... each a different sound; each a different way of organizing the musical work; each a revolution! All in highly competitive environment, and all led by the same individual: Miles Davis.

Leading at least four revolutions over a three-decade period, in a tough industry, where everybody is trying to make a statement; if this isn’t a measure of enduring high-performance, at the individual level, then what is? We’re speaking about Miles Davis, a jazz trumpeter often described as The Prince of Darkness. Perhaps a surprising choice to look forleadership lessons for the 21st century manager. Yet, Miles Davis led each revolution with a different team. No way was this attributable to good luck, or chance. Not four times and remarkably, not with four entirely different sets of collaborators. Every time Davis redefined the popular music of the time, he was working with a different “all-star” team.

 Playing in the second-half of the 20th century, Davis was up against stiff competition for recognition as a trumpet player. Following the great success of Louis Armstrong, many peoples’ all-time choice for best trumpeter, and Dizzy Gillespie, perhaps the most innovative player of all, Davis was part of a post-war “class” that included: Chet Baker, Clifford Brown, Fats Navarro, Maynard Ferguson, Art Farmer, and Red Rodney, just to name a few, and to indicate the level of professional competition in this industry. Davis, was characterized as never being content, constantly restless, forever looking for change; he always wanted the push the limits. The great bass-player Ron Carter may have said it best when he recongized that Miles Davis: "... was one of the few who was able to turn the world of music in any direction he chose.[2] " What is remarkable about Miles Davis and this story is that he did choose to turn the world of music, and he did it so frequently.

(Co-authored with Andy Boynton)


The great Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen’s historic “dash” on skis and dog sledges to the South Pole in 1911, beating the more methodical trudge by Captain Robert Scott’s expedition by a month, was a classic example of using knowledge to build a smarter project team.

(co-authored with Andy Boynton)


The febrile, haphazard world of the jazz musician hardly seems the place to find exemplars of leadership. Yet Miles Davis, the celebrated trumpeter, composer and band leader, led three major revolutions over three decades: overthrowing the dominance of bebop with his seminal 1949 album, Birth of the Cool; supplanting that in 1959 with the freer “modal jazz” typified by Kind of Blue; and shattering convention again with jazz fusion and the likes of Bitches Brew in the late 1960s. Remarkably, in each case, although he worked with different teams, he essentially followed the same basic formula for leading successful change.


Davis was constantly dissatisfied with the status quo and strove to push the limits – a prerequisite for any champion of change. He never lost sight of the need to evolve and refresh continuously. Each time, he was able to take his dream of change and encourage other virtuosos to buy into it by offering them a chance to leave their mark on the field. He also had a higher opinion of the customer than the prevailing stereotype within the music industry, ever confident that his increasingly complex music would be accepted in the marketplace. In trying to stretch his audience, he inevitably asked his band to stretch themselves.


Davis always surrounded himself with the best people in the fi eld: Al Haig, Bill and Gil Evans, Gerry Mulligan, Herbie Hancock, John Coltrane and many others form a veritable Hall of Fame of Jazz. Saxophonist Wayne Shorter observed: “Miles wanted to play with people who knew more about music than he did… He wasn’t afraid of it.” Davis was a superb judge of talent, often building his music around that talent, rather than bending the talent to his music. Pianist Ahmad Jamal said: “He sought people for what they were worth within themselves.” Yet, what he tried to do was to create a team context in which their full individual contribution could be gained.


Letting great people be great was key to Davis’ success. Saxophonist Cannonball Adderley recalls: “Miles really told everybody what not to do. I heard him and dug it.” By giving broad directions, he allowed his players to figure out how to achieve what was needed. “Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there” was a typical Davis instruction.


Davis was not only a virtuoso player, he was also a virtuoso listener. Which is not a bad way to lead, when you’ve gone to the trouble of hiring the very best talent on to your team. As bassist Gary Peacock put it: “He’d listen so hard it was deafening. He didn’t miss anything.” Davis himself said: “I’m happy if I can play one new idea on a night,” and claimed that he “learned something new every night....” Such commitment to learning led generations of players – who went on to be greats themselves – to testify to learning more from him in one day than they did all their lives. Not surprisingly, the experience became known among young jazz musicians as “The University of Miles Davis”. Bassist Michael Henderson said: “He gave me myself.” That says everything about the man and his method.


This originally appeared in British Airways’ Business Life, November

“Good Night, and Good Luck” were words made famous by radio news pioneer Edward R. Murrow as he closed-out his evening broadcasts from London during the terrible early days of the Second World War. But, there was no “luck” involved in Murrow’s work. He was consciously and deliberately part of a team that were “serious people at a serious job“, and along the way they changed the definition of their profession, the company that they were a part of, and the way their craft was practiced.

In doing all of this, they also created a rising generation of individuals who grew up to lead their industry into an entirely new future [television]. “They” were Edward R. Murrow’s team of radio news reporters who “invented broadcast journalism” as the war swept across Europe, or  Murrow’s Boys as they have been popularly referred to ever-since, and they were: young, brash, incredibly talented and allowed to exhibit their talent in the pursuit of their job. Their story illustrates the innovative power of teams, of allowing bright young people to fulfill their talent, and of the importance of the role of the visionary leader.

Read more: http://www.forbes.com/sites/billfischer/2014/12/24/good-teamwork-not-good-luck/#65162e852855